Cliff Walking

Taken from a devotional address delivered at Brigham Young University, 10 July, 1984.

Some time ago I saw an imposing photograph. It was a picture of a mountain climber in a spectacular Alpine setting. There were rugged mountains in every direction, rising thousands of feet above the valleys. In this photograph the climber was standing at the edge of a very high, very sheer cliff.

This picture had an emotional impact on me. I do not like heights. Anything over ten feet makes me feel dizzy. Yet this climber was standing there with his toes nearly over the edge. He must have had a great sense of excitement, poised as he was at the edge of his world. I am certain he must also have had some sense of danger. He was actually facing death.

Society might protect such cliff walkers from danger in one of two ways. Either we could place a fence at the top of the cliff, or we could provide an ambulance down below. The first way would prevent a fall; the second would try to treat the effects of a fall.

Obviously, the fence is the better solution. But for the cliff walker who loves the thrill of danger, the fence would ruin the experience.

I would like to make a comparison between the cliff and the temptations of this life. Like the view from the cliff, which draws the hiker ever nearer to the edge, Satan’s fables entice us ever nearer the brink of his carefully prepared abyss.

As we travel through life, Satan tries to lure us near the edge of the cliff. He gives us opportunities to peer over the cliff. If we are curious or bold or foolish, we may try to see just how close to the edge we can get. We loosen our grasp on the iron rod, maybe just barely keeping contact with the top of a finger. Then if we are not careful, we slip over the edge with hardly a murmur. It was thrilling though, while it lasted—teetering there on the brink, knowing we were so close to peril, but confident, oh so confident, that we had things in control.

Satan doesn’t care what he uses to get us—liquor, tobacco, drugs, desires for wealth or power, dishonesty, lust. He is clever enough. He’ll use whatever is at hand.

He Couldn’t Say No to a Drink

I have a friend who as a young man couldn’t say no to a drink of alcohol. But to him, it was a special kind of poison. He became an alcoholic. It had disastrous consequences on his family, and he struggled for years to overcome his illness. Fortunately, he did so, and he has found the time to help others. However, he lost years with his young family that he can never regain. He also was separated from the Church. From all indications, it appears that his past drinking has robbed him of an eternal family.

I recall a young couple who were having difficulty behaving themselves when alone on a date. They worried that they might lose control themselves. But their dates continued to end up with just the two of them in some secluded spot, walking on the edge of the cliff, as it were. They repeatedly fell into the same behavior for which they had prayed for strength to overcome. The peril-filled thrill of petting had greater attraction than did the calm plans made in the light of day. Having once walked to the edge of the cliff, they kept returning readily.

Fortunately, the girl finally realized they lacked the determination to change their behavior, so she ended their dating altogether, thus escaping the final fall over the cliff.

In ten years as a bishop and high councilor, I have taken part in several Church courts. I can testify to you that no one whose membership was on trial had stayed far away from the edge of the cliff. Their fences, if indeed they had ever built them, were in a state of disrepair. They had danced to Satan’s tune until they stumbled over the edge.

We are here, you and I, to be tried, tested, and proven worthy to reenter our Father in Heaven’s kingdom. We are here, as was Christ, to overcome temptation and claim our crowns on high. While we may have forgotten all, we are not abandoned. We have the guidance of scriptures, the counsel of living prophets and other inspired leaders, and, for those baptized under the hands of the priesthood of God, the gift of the Holy Ghost.

Whole Armour of God

The words of Paul to the Ephesians provide eloquent advice for you and me. Said he:

“Put on the whole armour of God, … that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.

“Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness;

“And your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace;

“Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked.

“And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God:

“Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints” (Eph. 6:11, 13–18).

As a parent, I have to help my children build their own fences at the cliff’s edge. As I contemplate that great challenge and responsibility, I am faced with the hope of success and the possibility of failure. But one thing I know. I am not at all interested in having an “average” Latter-day Saint family. My children have a difficult time with that idea. It seems unfair to them if my wife and I request they not play football on the Sabbath because “All the other kids are!” It is not fair if we insist that they be home at a specified hour since “The others don’t have to be home that early!” You see, the average statistics for Church members are that about one young man in three goes on a mission. Latter-day Saint youth, on the average, marry in the temple about 50 percent of the time.

When I consider my sons, I cannot choose which of the three should have the mission and which two should travel other paths. Will it be Jeff, whose priests quorum I advise? Dennis, whose Little League team I coach? Andy, who thinks absolutely anything is wonderful if he can do it with Dad? Is there one more deserving of the blessings of a mission than the others? Which two should turn their backs on the words of the prophet so that my boys will be “average?” Tell me, if you will, which two should find more important things to do?

Can you help me decide which two of my four daughters should forfeit the blessings pronounced at the altars of the temple? Should it be Laura and Lynita, my two college students? Or how about Jeannine, my musician? Or little Meg, who brings a smile to Dad with such little effort? Which two shall I declare unworthy? Disinterested? Unfaithful?

I find the prospects of having an “average” Latter-day Saint family absolutely intolerable. But that is just exactly what I will get, and it is just exactly what you will get, if we choose an average kind of path to follow.

As far as I am concerned, one of Satan’s greatest tools is to get you and me to become content to take the average road—to lie a little, to cheat a little, to take a little advantage because it seems so common. By this we are led, as Nephi said, “carefully down to hell.” (2 Ne. 28:21.)

Satan is very, very real. I have both felt and witnessed his great power, and it is a frightening thing. It is my further testimony that Christ lives and that he provides each of us the necessary knowledge to recognize sin and error.

I pray that we and our children can prepare their fences. Jesus Christ is the source of our strength. You and I need that strength if we are to turn away from evil and return to our Father in Heaven.

[photos] Photography by Jed Clark